Showing posts with label Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Show all posts

20 June 2017

The Darkest Crime

by Melissa Yi, Patreon

I managed to collar some of my favourite writers for an interview.

Melissa YiWhat attracts you to writing crime? In other words, "But you look so normal!"
Rebecca Cantrell (New York Times bestseller): Don't I just? That's how I lure them in...readers, I mean. I love writing crime because I have an overblown sense of justice and, despite having heard many warnings to the contrary, I want life to be fair.

O’Neil De Noux
 (winner of the Shamus Award and the Derringer Award): Grew up reading a lot of crime fiction. My father was a police officer, my brother was a cop, two of my cousins were cops. I became a cop, served as a road deputy (patrol officer), organized crime intelligence officer and homicide detective. I also worked as a private investigator for eight years. I always knew I’d write and took notes throughout my career. In the middle of it, I started writing novels.

Annie Reed (finalist in the Best First Private Eye Novel contest sponsored by St. Martin’s Press and the Private Eye Writers of America): I love stories that impose some sort of order on chaos. Since mysteries/crime fiction has to be resolved by the end of the book, they're perfect for me. Plus, I love figuring out puzzles. And, you know, I'm the quiet one in the corner that your mother warned you about. *g*

Dean Wesley Smith (USA Today bestselling author): I love the puzzle aspects of mystery and crime. I never know who did what when I start off, so I get to entertain myself as my characters solve the crime. So I love to read mystery, I love to write it as well.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch (New York Times bestseller who is also an Edgar and Shamus Award nominee): Oh, my, such a convoluted question. I used to work part time for a forensic psychologist. I would administer his Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Tests to the criminals (and others) who came in, as preparation for court. (I met a number of murderers and arsonists. The murderers didn't scare me. One arsonist scared the crap out of all of us.) One day I took the MMPI myself, and scored exactly the same as both the cops and the criminals. Now, I remember when the first cop scored similarly to a criminal; my boss told me that was common. Cops and criminals are two sides of the same coin. But I scored high there too. I showed it to him (fearless person that I am.) And he said that I scored that high because I lived "outside the norm" which is what it measured. But I wonder. Maybe I'm just predisposed to seeing the dark side of human nature--and being fascinated by it.

Reader: Wait a minute, Melissa. How did you meet such illustrious authors, along with Anthony Award finalist Libby Fischer Hellmann and New York Times and USA Today bestselling author J.F. Penn?

Melissa Yi: Er, I hang around with famous people all the time.

Reader: <cough, cough>

Melissa Yi: Shh! They were just about to tell me about some of their favourite books!

Rebecca Cantrell: My main character, Joe Tesla, has agoraphobia and can't leave the tunnels under New York. In this book, I got him a submarine and let him explore the ocean with his service dog.
Did you know dogs can scuba dive? I didn't before I started this book.

Melissa Yi: I didn't, but dogs are pretty amazing.

Annie Reed: Parents walk a tightrope trying to figure out how much freedom to give their kids while trying to keep them safe from the creeps and predators in this world. The internet makes it so much easier for the bad guys to get their hooks into unsuspecting kids, and it's not always obvious who the bad guys are. I had to walk that tightrope with my own daughter when she was in her teens. We got lucky. A lot of families don't. That's the reason I wrote PRETTY LITTLE HORSES.

O’Neil De NouxGRIM REAPER was my first novel, written at a dark time not long after I left the homicide division. It has a lot of anger in the book – showing the pressure and often numbing effect of witnessing repeated violence. It’s raw. It’s the most realistic book I’ve written.

Dean Wesley Smith: Actually, the series is close to my heart. Having retired detectives working on cold cases in Las Vegas has numbers of elements I love. First off, retired humans feeling worthwhile by helping put to rest mysteries that have left families always wondering. And Las Vegas is my favorite place on the planet. So all win for me.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: The opening to Spree, that van on that highway, was a vehicle I had actually seen. I hate that highway in Nevada. The remoteness scares the crap out of me. And I knew that van had a story. I wrote the story very fast, and it surprised me, so I figure it'll surprise readers too.

Reader: Hang on. There's something familiar about all these books. Melissa, didn't you write a book about a hit and run?

Melissa Yi: Yes, NOTORIOUS D.O.C. Eight years after a woman is killed in a hit and run, her mother is still searching for justice, and Dr. Hope Sze is the only person crazy enough to take on her case. After I gave birth to my son, I read the first draft of the novel and said to myself, This book is about a mother's love for her kid. I threw away the first version and wrote a whole new and more powerful story.

Reader: I know what this is. This is a Storybundle!

Melissa Yi: Wait a minute. Who's running this interview?

Reader: I'm serious! I know what this is. You pay as little as $5 for five stellar crime books, or if you beat $15, you unlock another five bonus books! But it only lasts for two more weeks. I even found the link: https://storybundle.com/mystery

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: You left out two things: the way it introduces readers to new writers and the way that it brings in charities. I really love the charitable aspect. This bundle's charity is AbleGamers, which I think is extremely worthwhile.

Annie Reed: As a reader (and a bargain hunter), I love getting a bunch of great fiction at an insanely low price, and at the same time being able to support a wonderful charity. As a writer, I'm thrilled to be included with a group of awesome writers, some of whom are new to me, and I can't wait to read their work!

Melissa Yi: Okay, you've outed us. How did you get so smart?

Reader: When you read, it's a chicken and egg sort of question.

Melissa Yi: “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

Reader: Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird. Which is not part of this bundle, but it should be.

Melissa Yi: Amen, brother. Amen.


12 July 2016

Black in America

by Irette Y. Patterson


This is about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and being Black in America. Look away if you can't handle this right now because I barely can myself. And it may be preaching to the choir but I just have to say something.

I.
After one of the deaths last year (sad that I don't recount which one), my 20-something-year-old nephew called me in Philadelphia asking me how to stay alive.
I couldn't give him an answer.

II.
I remember Charleston. 9 people gunned down in a church. In a Bible study on Wednesday night.
You would not find me in a Wednesday night Bible study. Honestly? I'm just not that good of a person. But my parents the Deacon and Deaconness could have been there. My aunts and my uncles were the type, the respectable type, the good type that would have been there.
And the alleged murderer who confessed to the crime was given a ride to Burger King.
And I waited. I watched my facebook feed and my twitter feed to see what would happen. And it was like no one cared.
I was broken, do you hear me? Broken. If the best of the Black Community could get gunned down and no one cared, what hope did I have?

III.
On Being Black in America - Back when I was living in my house in Georgia, one Saturday night I noticed that there was a police car slowing driving back and forth down my street.
Now. My street is not a main road. The only people who drive down it are the folks who live there. So. I call the hot line aka the stay-at-home mom two doors down. Stay-at-home moms are like a neighborhood surveillance system. They know everything. I ask her if she knows a reason why a cop is cruising the street. She says no.
I'm looking out the front curtains and the police car stops in front of my house. The officer gets out. It's late Saturday night. I lived alone. I did not call the cops. Why the heck is Officer Friendly coming up my front steps?
I look at my fireplace and confirm that my parent's picture is on the mantle. I sort of look like them to prove residency. I also have my driver's license in my purse and could pull out the documentation for when I purchased the house.
My neighbor is still on the phone. As the officer walks up my 17 steps, I ask her if she will hold on the phone while I'm talking to the officer. The officer is extremely courteous and remains a few feet away from the door which I appreciate. He stated that someone called in a break in and he couldn't find the house number which didn't exist on my street. I told him that I didn't call it in and it was my house. I moved a little to the side so that he can see my parents' picture on the mantle. He said good-bye and left. I got back on the phone with my neighbor to assure her that I was OK.
Now. Depending on who you are, you might think that I was being ridiculous. Do you know who didn't think I was being ridiculous? My neighbor who immigrated from Trinidad whose family originally immigrated from India. She knew EXACTLY why I had her and, by extension, her former Marine husband on the line.
Let me repeat, the officer was nothing but respectful and professional. But I didn't call him. It was late at night. I lived alone. And I was scared.

IV.
I can usually tell when a non-Black author writes a Black character. I don't have to look at the cover. It's because the author does not have the basic respect for Black people to actually conduct research. Other cultures are researched to make sure that certain things are right. The science in a hard sf story has to be right. Black people? Everyone knows about Black people, right?
So. here are the top things that I know when I'm reading that a non-Black person wrote a Black character. Here are the things that are missed—

1. Family. Where are these people's people? My mom is still mad I left Atlanta a couple of years ago. Oh yeah, and family reunions.

2. Respect. I read these characters and wonder how they can get away with what they are saying to their parents. When my parents were staying with me at my house my mom actually asked me if I thought that I was grown in the middle of "heated fellowship". Yes. She was staying with me. In my house. That I was paying the mortgage on. What did I do? I walked away because I have sense, people. I am not crazy.

3. Education. Education is stressed because it was seen as a way out, as being respectable. It's a way to compete. Black women are the most highly educated group in America. That's not by accident. And code-switching is real. I wrote down one time how I talk with family and friends versus when I'm out and out. On the page it looks like two different characters.
I'm not saying that non-black authors can't write black characters. Kristine Kathryn Rusch nails it. In fact, I get a perverse pleasure in recommending non-black authors writing black characters to my black friends when it's done well. I wait until they finish the story and then spring the ethnicity of the author on them.
What I am saying is to respect the culture enough to do your research. I mean, if someone has to translate Beyonce's Lemonade album for you, maybe you need to do some more research before writing contemporary black characters.

Ezekiel James Boston Right on point.
One of my indicators is a lack of shared accomplishment. A character is the first to do something positive (go to college, open their own business, etc.) that hadn't been done by either one or both sides of their family and it's not a big deal to said family...

Irette Patterson Yep. I could never identify with black kids in children's literature growing up. It seems like it was all about growing up poor in the inner city. I grew up middle class in the suburbs. My dad was the first in his family to go to college and it was a big deal. Especially as a dark skinned black man in a time where the paper bag test was real. My parents' church has a ceremony for all the graduates each year.

Note by Melissa Yi: Irette and Sean gave me permission to share their stories from Facebook. I have edited them slightly, but their words are their own. I also highly recommend this article with concrete steps to take for a more just society. The first is to educate yourself about your city’s police conduct review process: http://www.ravishly.com/2015/04/10/what-you-can-do-right-now-about-police-brutality

Irette Y. Patterson (http://www.iretteypatterson.com/) writes uplifting, feel-good stories, like “Worth,” published in the Saturday Evening Post (http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2014/12/19/post-fiction/contemporary-fiction-art-entertainment/worth.html).

Ezekiel James Boston favors fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal occult. http://ezekieljamesboston.com/

21 June 2016

Sweet Dreams and Armpits

by Melissa Yi, M.D.

A is for…


I'll start off with the second part of the title first.
When I get a trauma case, my priorities are ABC, or C-ABC

C-spine (some experts put this first, so we don't forget to immobilize the cervical spine)

Airway: is the patient talking? Bleeding? Suffering from a burn that will close off the airway?

Breathing: now check the lungs and chest. Look at the respiratory rate and oxygenation.

Circulation: is s/he bleeding anywhere? How are the blood pressure and heart rate?

D is for disability, which means a neurological exam. Pupils, reflexes, and strength if the patient will cooperate.

Dr. Scott Weingart, an emergency physician intensivist based in New York, emphasizes E for Exposure in penetrating trauma. You need to find the entry and exit points so the patient doesn’t bleed out from a bullet wound in the back while you’re messing around with a chest tube in the front.

So even before establishing airway, if the patient is maintaining an airway and has no blunt injuries, Dr. Weingart inspects “every square centimetre” of the patient’s skin, including the axillae, the back, the gluteal folds and the perineum, including lifting up the scrotum in a male patient. A much catchier mnemonic, proposed by Dr. Robert Orman, an emergency physician in Portland, Oregon, is: “armpits, back, butt cheeks and sack.”

With thanks to Leigh Lundin for pointing out that I had forgotten to post, and to the Medical Post for originally printing this clinical pearl.

Sweet Dreams

And now for a happy dance: one of my writing dreams has come true. When I looked at Rob Lopresti's column, I recognized the Forensics book cover by Val McDermid.

Why? Because it was chosen as one of CBC's best crime books of the season--along with my own Stockholm Syndrome.

Kris Rusch has said that you should make sure you set writing goals, which are within your control, as well as dreams, which are pies in the sky.

Well, I've been wanting to get on CBC's The Next Chapter for years. So I updated my list of writing dreams and goals here.

Goal: unlocked!

Of course, I have approximately 2 million other unrealized goals, but it's a start. How about you? What are your writing goals and dreams?

Signing out so I can get some sleep before my ER shift tomorrow. I hope I won't need to use my C-ABCDE mnemonic, but you never know what'll happen.

Peace.

16 February 2016

Creative Drought

by Melissa Yi
I don’t usually talk about writer’s block because I’m more like a machine. Working in the emergency room? I’ll do 500 words before or after my shift. Not working? Bump it up to 1000. More if possible, but set the bar low so you can always hit the target. That was my recipe for years.

Usually, if the creative juices aren’t flowing, I can switch to non-fiction or poetry and get the job done. I can write about a patient I saw or the cuteness of my kids without batting an eye.

But recently, I’m not feeling it.

Only once before did I take a break from writing, after a death in the family. I’d been forcing myself to keep going, keep marching, soldier, at 2000 words/day, until I mentioned it to Kris Rusch/Nelscott, and she said something like, “I’m surprised you’re still writing. You could make yourself hate it that way.” Slowly, I let myself recuperate.

I found myself trying a few creative things like sketching or baking. The funniest example was that I made a zucchini chocolate chip cake with treats baked inside. My friend forgot to tell one of the construction workers who ate it and ended up chewing on a ring. And eventually, I started writing again.
Author Allie Larkin talks about balance here.
This time, it’s much more insidious. After burning myself out in December, and now starting a new job as a hospitalist, where I have to work every day, looking after admitted patients, instead of working erratic hours as an emergency doctor, I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing this week. I was working on a back pain book in January, so it’s not like I was overflowing with outlandish ideas before that.
This is not going to be a cheery list of ten ways to break writer’s block. Just a note that I’ve been here before. I had to refill the well, and then I carried on.

I recently picked up a book by David Whyte called The Three Marriages. His theory is that during your lifetime, you will generally marry another person, a career, and yourself.

By marrying yourself, you listen to your heart and what you want, not the external demands of money, prestige, or your partner’s demands. That can be hard to do. When I was sick but still dragged myself to the Cornwall Public Library’s annual party to celebrate volunteers, one of the coordinators asked me how I was doing as a person. Not as a doctor, not as a writer, but as myself. And I was silenced, because it feels like people approve of my accomplishments, but most of them don’t know the human being underneath.

After burning out, I decided not to flagellate myself anymore. I will do my best. But if the words don’t get written every single day or night, I won’t fret. I’ll just write again the next day.

The flip side is that during this week as a hospitalist, I haven’t made the time. But that’s okay. I wanted to spend my energy on medicine this week, and I did. My time is up on Tuesday, and then I have 24 hours before I start up as an emergency doctor again.

Buddhism talks about not getting fixed on ideas and labels about ourselves. “I am a writer.” “I am a doctor.” Labels change. Life is long. Things are fluid.

What about you? Have you ever encountered writer’s block? What did you do?

26 January 2016

Left Coast Criminals

by Melissa Yi

Hey, I'm heading out for the second mystery convention of my life, Left Coast Crime! Whatever shall I do? Especially if I want to save money?


Well, I’ve got three travel tips for you budget-conscious sleuths already.

1.     Register early. You knew this. I blew that one, waffling about whether or not I would attend. So, late registration for me. $275 U.S. at a time when the Canadian dollar is plunging. Luckily, I had enough USD to cover it.

2.     Google your flight.
 I used a lot of different flight sites, but I found them frustrating. A lot of them want you to choose both departing and return flights together, without offering good options (one gave me a 13 hour layover. Are you kidding me?).
For example, I’m appearing at the PoisonedPen Bookshop's International Fiction Night featuring Jewish Noir night at 6:30, so I have to arrive in time on February 24th. And flying back to Montreal on a Sunday is not a popular option. Only Google let me choose arrival and departure times for both flights, sifting impartially through different airlines.

3.     Airbnb
I’ve almost always had a good, and occasionally above-and-beyond experiences through airbnb, where you stay in someone's home. Although of course staying at the hotel is a swanky and convenient experience, I like meeting people, and sometimes they offer me food! Plus, what the heck. If you sign up with this link, we both get a few bucks off: https://www.airbnb.ca/c/myuaninnes?s=4&i=1

Now you're going to ask me, why go to a con?
1.     You could sell a book, like Michael J. Cooper sold The Rabbi’s Knight.
Michele Lang, Michael J. Cooper, and Melissa Yi. Yes, that's Jewish Noir instead of The Rabbi's Knight. Collect 'em all!
 2.     You could hook new readers. I live in rural Ontario. I can pretty much guarantee that no one in Phoenix has ever seen one of my books, let alone bought one.
3.     You could make friends. Travis Richardson told me a lot of writers hang out by the bar. He’s bringing his whole family!
4.     You could sell a short story or two. Hey, that's how I got into Jewish Noir.
5.     You could get some story ideas. I feel creatively listless right now. Maybe a con will help.
6.     It’s a vacation. I don’t remember ever going to Phoenix. My parents did drag me on a cross-continental trip to California one summer when I was little, so it’s possible I did go and don’t remember it except as a blur from the back of a van.
7.     Fanboy and girl squees. For me, this translates to “Dana Stabenow will be there!” I'll also be on a panel with Chantelle Aimee, Fan Guest of Honor (uh huh. Can't say anything more than that).
8.   Kenneth Wishnia told you to.

 
Why NOT go to a con?
1.     No time
2.     No money
3.     No interest
4.     Guilt
For me, it’s number four. I feel like I shouldn’t spend money on my writing. I should just slave over my laptop, ratcheting up my word count, sending out my stories, and get magically discovered by readers while I continue to work, work, work. I could be helping patients in the emergency room. I could be getting my kids on or off the school bus. Plus, I try not to travel because of carbon emissions.

Other people don’t feel this guilty. Theoretically, I’m allowed to have a vacation. My hair stylist, Christina Peeters, said simply, “I work hard. I deserve it.” Kris Rusch talks about how essential it is for writers to do continuing education. And the money’s mostly already spent.

Soooooooo…what about you? Do you go to cons?
And if you’re going to this one, see you at Left Coast Crime!

 

22 September 2015

Envy and Writing: Real-Life Noir

by Melissa Yi


On September 10th, Sleuthsayer Eve Fisher described her story “Presumed Guilty,” published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Detective that I am, I deduced that it was the cover story.

I thought, Hmm. Not only have I never cracked the pages of AHMM, I’ve only received one slightly personalized rejection to date. Usually it’s just a straight bounce.

I could’ve gotten envious of Eve. Seethed about Eve. In fact, years ago, I might have done exactly that.

At my book club last month, we did a round table and each picked which deadly sin personified us. I chose both anger and envy. I’m also an enormous glutton—people are always astonished how much I eat and ask where I pack it away—but I don’t feel guilty about loving food. I have, however, blown up at people and swallowed a lot of bile and worked hard to change both these traits.

First, dictionary time.
  • Envy means you want what someone else has, whether it’s a fat bank account or the perfect family.
  • Jealousy means you’re afraid of losing what you’ve got, so you monitor your pretty young mistress to make sure she doesn’t take up with her dashing co-worker.

I bring this up for two reasons. I think writers are particularly susceptible to envy because there’s no clear path, so it feels like everyone else is always getting ahead.
“[A] woman with three poems in [Poetry Magazine] had been born two years after me, which was enough to ruin my day—and I didn’t even desire to write poetry. The notion of people my age or younger having written books, some of them quite good books, was more than upsetting. I did not precisely want them to die, but, wondering why they hadn’t the simple courtesy to allow my achievements to be recognized first, I wanted them, somehow, stopped. The moral of this little story, I believe, is that it is difficult to be ambitious without also being envious.”—Joseph Epstin, Envy

Edgar-nominated writer Kris Rusch/Nelscott told me, "In writing, there is no hierarchy, which is really strange.  It's the only profession I know where we don't compete against each other. We compete against ourselves--trying to outdo ourselves.  That's because each writers' career is different.  No one career is the same as another.  So we're always comparing apples and broccoli."

Still, when Kris asked for suggestions about topics for her Freelancer’s Survival Guide, I asked her to write about jealousy. She initially said no. But eventually she did write about it, and it was so popular that it became a two-part article.

“First, let me be clear about the reasons I initially declined to cover this topic.  I think jealousy is one of the most destructive emotions in the world.  I think you can attribute more horrible things to jealousy than you can to most other emotions, including anger. I see nothing positive about jealousy. I’ve watched it ruin friendships, marriages, and professional relationships. I’ve watched it destroy careers.  I know of cases where jealousy has led to actual physical harm, including murder.” http://kriswrites.com/2010/01/14/freelancers-survival-guide-professional-jealousy/

To my surprise, the follow-up article was called “Surviving Other People’s Jealousy.” 
I don’t think I ever harmed anyone, just gnashed my teeth a bit. And no one had envied me, as far as I knew, since I was such a newbie.

I needed more advice. Luckily, bestselling author Jennifer Crusie had me in mind for this: http://jennycrusie.com/for-writers/essays/green-is-not-your-color-professional-jealousy-and-the-professional-writer/

You’re human…Wallow in it...For five minutes. That’s all you get, five minutes to be seethingly, teeth-achingly bitter.
Then think about what the person did to get what she got….
Then take that analysis of what she did and see if you can apply it to your career. Whatever it was that she did, it obviously worked. 

I noticed a common recipe for success: hard work. I could do that.

Jennifer Crusie again:
Bette Midler said, “The hardest thing about being successful is finding somebody to be happy for you.” The one thing that I have noticed about all the successful people I know is that their circle of friends gets smaller and smaller…..

Well, that’s no good.
While I threw myself into writing, mostly toiling in isolation but occasionally selling a story, I slowly, slowly relinquished my grip on envy and admired my writing friends.

Here’s one Cinderella ending. My name appears in the latest AHMM. No, I didn’t get to write the cover story. But Ken Wishnia’s Trace Evidence guest editorial appears on the cover, and the entire third paragraph describes my appearance in Jewish Noir

And thanks to our generous “You don’t have to be Jewish to write Jewish Noir” policy, I also got to collaborate with writers like Canadian author Melissa Yi, who was a joy to work with. She sent me two stories for consideration, and I ended up replying with a carefully worded email explaining that I liked the first half of the first story and the second half of the second story, and asked if she would be willing to combine the two stories along these lines to create a totally new story. That’s asking a lot, but not only was she willing to do it, after revising the two stories into one, she ended up adding a new section that gave her story “Blood Diamonds” a crack-of-the-whip sting of an ending that will linger in your mind for long after you’ve read it.

May we all live and write happily ever after.


11 August 2015

No Plot. Mo' Problem.

by Melissa Yi

Do you like to plot your story, point by point?

Fantasy writer Tim Powers advocated this method at my Writers of the Future winners’ workshop. He outlines his novel meticulously, sells it on proposal, and then never gets writers’ block because he just follows the outline he already wrote.

Sounds perfect, right? Except I like to just run to the computer and type madly, before my kids wake up and/or I have to run to work. Sometimes, I have almost no idea what came out of my fingers, except it was up to 1000 words and I’m done for the day.
My kids need supervision.

It means I’m a pantser (as in “flying by the seat of”). I let my characters shoot off their mouths, and possibly other body parts. They run into and out of danger. It’s a lot of fun. My characters really do surprise me, and my subconscious brain comes up with a lot of bizarre plot twists.

So the good news is that I’m 66,000 words into my latest Hope Sze novel, Human Remains.

The bad news is that I haven’t decided on a plot.

For me, if I don’t have a good plot, I don’t have the backbone of my mystery. Even though Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith teach that character and setting are the keys of mystery, especially important in a series character, I just can’t get a handle on a book when I’m constantly spinning new plot points and antagonists. It’s CRAZY.

Usually, I end up punching a bunch of words out, throwing half of them in the garbage, then stitching the survivors into a slamming good story, but it takes me so much time and energy that I spend a year or longer writing each mystery and I’m wrung out by the end of it.

So I probably should plot more.

What about you? Do you like to write into the darkness, or craft each scene in advance?A lil’ bit o’ both? Or just check out some illustrious suggestions from Jan Grape, which I discovered after I’d already written this column….

21 February 2012

Animal Instinct

by David Dean

My last posting concerned the grey hinterland of human mind control and was extremely taxing to write, so I often found myself contemplating the family's fifteen year old corgi as a means of  mental relaxation.  She seldom appeared to have a lot on her own mind, but napped in apparent comfort as I labored away.  Occasionally, she might stir herself to stretch and shift positions, or sit up to peer out the window onto our street.  This last would only happen if something truly important roused her, such as a UPS truck going by (she hates UPS...don't ask me why, as I've always equated the truck with Christmas gifts and happy times).  She, on the other hand, has held a grudge against Big Brown since she was a pup many moons ago.  By people years she is 105 and, apparently, has a long memory when it comes to grievances, real or imagined.  She holds the vacuum cleaner (any model) in the same contempt, and just as inexplicably.


A good corgi--not Silke
In case you don't know, a Welsh corgi is an ancient breed of cattle dog.  I found this idea laughable, at first, as Silke (that's her name--she was christened by my offspring who also found her) has short little legs and I couldn't imagine her herding cows, or even sheep, for that matter.  But then, I am a low and ignorant knave.  Corgi means dwarf in Welsh (hence the short leggies) and this allowed them to nip easily at the ankles of their wards while avoiding being kicked--being so low to the ground they can drop quickly beneath the damaging arc of the cow's hoof.  The official book on these furry devils warns, "Not for first-time owners".  That's right; that's what it says.  Care to guess what we were?

It seems this invaluable breed of canine tend to be bossy and are prone to nipping.  Thanks, kids.  I guess that shouldn't surprise anyone who knew what they were bred for--being bossy to a bunch of cows and nipping their hooves.  But I had no idea what the kids were getting us into.  Corgis are highly resistant to Mind Control.  This last is my own admonition as, believe me, I have tried.  But Silke remains serenely impervious to all attempts at training or discipline.  I gave up years ago--Pavlov did not use Welsh corgis in his famous experiment .  This shouldn't have surprised me, really, as my own progeny have also resisted my every effort at mind control.  It makes perfect sense that they should somehow, while on a trip to Virginia, manage to find just this dog in a pet store.  The shop owners claimed that they had no idea what kind of mutt it was...sure they didn't.

Though resistant to all discipline imposed upon them, corgis happily impose their own special brand of rules on everyone else.  For instance, running, and other erratic movements, are greatly discouraged, as are overt signs of physical affection, unless those affectionate overtures are directed at the corgi.  Try cuddling up to your loved one and soon the thick, furry body of the Adversary inserts itself betwixt the two of you like a mobile chastity pillow.  As for games of chase when the kids were younger...this was strictly forbidden!  Silke would fly into action by rapidly circling the offending parties in ever-tightening spirals until all motion was halted.  I cannot recall how many times I have tripped over this beastie.  I suspect that this latter trait is why corgis are so favored by the Queen of England--the herding instinct insures that all in the royal party will move about in a decorous manner; assume a stately progress.  The alternative is to be either tripped or bitten.  I have read that many of her guests (and family) despise the little beggars.

Did I mention that Silke hates all other canines?  With a passion.  She admits of no other dog being an ally or kindred spirit.  She recognizes no kinship.  I don't know if this applies to her own breed, as they are somewhat rare this side of the pond, but I suspect she would be just as unforgiving with them as any other.

Well, of course, those same children who had to have this creature, grew up and went away to college and thence to their own lives.  Silke and me are still here.  She thinks Robin, my wife, is just swell, though I am the one left mostly in charge of her...did I say, "in charge"?  Well, you get the picture.  I do the walks, the feedings, and now, the insulin injections.  Mostly, anyway.  Yes, she has diabetes and has had for the past four years.  The vet gave her a year at most after diagnosing her--if  we gave her the insulin.  I came from a background that was less than sentimental about pets, being descended from farm folk who routinely slaughtered barnyard animals and hunted game.  There were no pets, as such.  Yet, Silke has prevailed even against my notoriously budget-minded ways.  We buy the hideously expensive insulin.  She yet lives.

She has also appeared in a number of my stories.  She has played the protagonist, victim, and villain with equal aplomb.  I get a kick out of working her into my efforts from time to time.  Because the truth be told, her completely uncompromising nature, besides being infuriating, also charms and intrigues me.  Animals have always had this effect on me, and probably a third, or better, of everything I've ever written involves animals and nature in various roles both great and small--by my count, fourteen out of thirty stories.

Sometimes they just provide a bit of atmospheric background, such as the clutch of neighborhood turkey vultures in "The Vengeance of Kali".  In other stories they provide warnings, or are harbingers of something terrible coming--a small dog (possibly a corgi) in "Spooky"; a lizard in "Tap-Tap", while in some they are the victims, as a cat and corgi each in "The Mole" and "Whistle".  But, in the interest of fair-handedness, animals are sometimes the victimizers as well: a cougar and spider in "Natural Causes", a zoo tiger in "Copy Cat", a corgi in "Little Things" and in "The Wisdom Of Serpents"...yep, serpents. 

I didn't start out to write about animals so frequently; it just happened.  In fact, for the first ten years of my taking up the pen, I was unaware that I was doing so.  It was only after I had built up a small body of work that I gradually became cognizant of the recurrent nature of...well, nature, in my stories.

It's not that I write animal stories, as such, it's just that they figure in so often.  I'm not alone in this, oh no; in fact, several Big Shot Writers in the mystery and suspense field have gotten there long before me--E.A. Poe and H.H. Munro of past renown, as well as Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Doug Allyn of more recent note.  I stumble along in the paths of others.  But, I wouldn't be able to exclude wee beasties, and great, even if I wanted to.  They are all around us and figure into our lives though we dwell in suburbs or great cities. 

Just this morning, I was beckoned by a sparrow to open the door to my garage and free her.  This was not an isolated incident.  For some time now, whenever the weather is rough with rain or heavy winds, a sparrow hides herself (or himself) I'll never know which, within our attached garage as we pull the car in.  Come the morning, she begins to sing...loudly.    This is our cue to open the damn garage door and release her from her voluntary confinement.  This is accomplished on a regular basis.  At first, I thought it was just a case of the sparrow having inadvertently entered the garage and become trapped when we shut the door.  But repeated experience has shown me differently.  Is it the same bird, each time?  I will never be sure, but it is always a sparrow.  Additionally, there is no nest in the garage.  And it never happens when the weather is nice.  Also, she never sings while in the garage until daylight comes and the weather has cleared.  Gives the pejorative 'bird-brained' a slightly different slant, doesn't it?  But it does make me think, and whenever I do that I start to have ideas that sometime become stories, and when I write stories I become a happier person.  So, my little sparrow may not be the bluebird of happiness, and my dog may not be Lassie, but they both do me a world of good.

Sparrow